Research has shown that there is a vast gap between the amount of words and language heard by poor children and their wealthier peers from birth to age three. This difference contributes to poorer children falling behind in their language and knowledge development, opening an achievement gap between the two groups once they enter school. There is a close tie between children’s success in school at ages nine and ten and the amount and quality of the verbal interaction or talk that they engage in with their parents and caregivers during the very first years of life.
Children’s brains develop when adults speak and encourage children to respond, when young children show curiosity and adults follow up on their natural curiosity by talking with them. These interactions prepare children for school and success. In the first phase of our project, Sifunda Ngokuthetha (“We Learn by Talking Together”), we tested a strategy to help close the language gap by creating opportunities for caregivers and young children to engage in conversation and early learning in everyday environments such as the supermarket.
South Africa Partners is currently piloting the project in partnership with two retail grocery chains, Pick n’ Pay and its subsidiary, Boxer Superstores, to install the signage, test the material and measure the impact of the strategy on caregiver and child interactions.